Google demos offline web apps for mobile

Google showed off the power of HTML5-based browsers to support mobile web apps even when offline as the basis for driving mobile internet usage and innovation at the Mobile World Congress Wednesday.

At a conference session on mobile internet, Google engineering VP Vic Gundotra said that the secret of the iPhone's success in surfing the "real" internet was its browser, which is based on the WebKit browser engine.

"Browsers based on WebKit, which also run on the HTC G1 and the Palm Pre, change the game and drive usage because they do more than just browse the web - they also provide a platform for applications," said Gundotra.

WebKit support the W3C's HTML5, which supports standards like AppCache, GeoLocation and Database that allow web-based apps to run normally even when the handset is in airplane mode.

Gundotra made his point with a world-first demo showing an iPhone, a G1 and a Palm Pre running Gmail in offline mode with a floating toolbar.

"The significance of this is that it means you can build an app that runs on any device and any OS as long as the browser supports HTML5," Gundotra said.

Gundotra also said that handset software needed to take advantage of mobile-specific characteristics such as touchscreens, microphones, cameras and GPS chips to create unique apps for users.

As an example, he demonstrated a modified GoogleMaps app that combined geotagging with voice recognition activated by accelerometers that sense when the phone is being held in a speaking position. By holding the handset to your ear and speaking a search term into the mike, you can get instant search results relevant to your location in a couple of seconds without pushing a button.

"It's those kinds of combinations of things that will deliver a great user experience, which is what will unleash tremendous innovation and really drive the mobile Internet," Gundotra said.

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